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Archive 08-19 BR & Challenges > Where I'm Calling From - Sep/Oct 2010

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message 1: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Aug 31, 2010 12:45PM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Vicki (and anyone who wants to read this), I'd like to suggest breaking down these stories in this manner. If we read each section on a weekly basis, would discussing them on Thursday's work for you? That would mean starting to discuss the first 6 stories next week, September 9. The page approximations are from my paperback copy.

1. About 70 pages, discuss starting 9/9

Nobody Said Anything
Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes
The Student’s Wife
They’re Not Your Husband
What Do You Do in San Francisco
Fat

2. About 70 pages, discuss starting 9/16

What’s in Alaska?
Neighbors
Put Yourself in My Shoes
Collectors
Why, Honey?
Are These Actual Miles?

3. About 75 pages, discuss starting 9/23

Gazebo
One More Thing
Little Things
Why Don’t You Dance?
A Serious Talk
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
Distance
The Third Thing That Killed My Father Off

4. About 85 pages, discuss starting 9/30

So Much Water So Close to Home
The Calm
Vitamins
Careful
Where I’m Calling From

5. About 80 pages, discuss starting 10/7

Chef’s House
Fever
Feathers
Cathedral
A Small, Good Thing


6. About 100 pages, discuss starting 10/14

Boxes
Whoever Was Using this Bed
Intimacy
Menudo
Elephant
Blackbird Pie
Errand


message 2: by Vicki (new)

Vicki So we will be discussing this over the course of 6 weeks? I like this, it seems manageable to me.


message 3: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Aug 31, 2010 07:51PM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) Great! I thought that would work even if you were too busy for anything else, but still give you room for other things. I'll edit and mark the dates above (for both of us.)


message 4: by Vicki (new)

Vicki Looks good. I found my copy and will start reading in a day or two. Look forward to our discussion.


Elizabeth (Alaska) 1. About 70 pages, discuss starting 9/9

Nobody Said Anything
Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes
The Student’s Wife
They’re Not Your Husband
What Do You Do in San Francisco
Fat


It's always interesting adjusting to the different rhythm of a new author. If I were to rank these 6 stories, Nobody Said Anything I would put first, and that made it easier. My heart went out to the kid.

My second favorite was They’re Not Your Husband. Sort of an O. Henry ending. Not startling, but unexpected. And perhaps more real than we really want to know.

You've read him before - were any of these rereads?


message 6: by Vicki (new)

Vicki Yes, you definitely felt bad for the kid in Nobody Said Anything.
It did take me awhile to re-warm up to him in this section of stories. When I read him, I read a lot of authors with similar styles. So it was a bit strange going back after so long. I haven't read any of these.

I didn't really like Fat. It was actually the first one I read because I was short on time that night.


message 7: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Sep 09, 2010 04:04PM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) What I've liked especially is that the stories are all so different in terms of place and age of the subjects. But they all seem to focus on those with working class backgrounds, and particularly those, perhaps, at the lower end of working class.


message 8: by Vicki (new)

Vicki Yes, his focus tends to be those average everyday people and those small moments in time that seems to be so insignificant but means a lot. He also was a minimalist. His language is not showy and flowery, the details are spare but so important and significant.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I don't think I understood The Student's Wife. I might re-read it with the next group and see if that sheds any light.


message 10: by Vicki (new)

Vicki What I got from The Student's Wife was the pain within her that came from the emptiness in their marriage. I wondered if that translated into the outer pain she was discussing or was there something else going on. She was desperately trying to get his attention, even by saying she ached and he just wanted to sleep. At first, I equated the marriage as a young one looking at the title, but I don't think it was. I wondered if he was literally a student or just someone who wanted to assume the role of the constant learner/explorer and never set roots in one place. I think the power in this story is in what is not being said.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Maybe they were still students OF marriage, still learning about it. I agree that I didn't think they were young. Thanks, I AM going to go back and read this one again.


message 12: by Vicki (last edited Sep 10, 2010 09:19AM) (new)

Vicki It pointed out that he was reading Rilke in the beginning, but that was the only student-like activity I noticed. I almost thought of it, like when my friends and I say we wish we could be paid to sit around and talk about books all day.

I also personally felt the first two pages seemed a little disjointed from the rest. The tone seemed different to me. Curious about what you think.

It is true though, they don't seem to be excelling at the art of marriage.


Elizabeth (Alaska) 2. About 70 pages, discuss starting 9/16

What’s in Alaska?
Neighbors
Put Yourself in My Shoes
Collectors
Why, Honey?
Are These Actual Miles?


First, I reread The Student's Wife. Glad I did. Perhaps I should be rereading all of them. ;-) Anyway, when Nan first started talking she asked Mike to remember a camping trip they had taken between high school and his starting college. He remembered . . . "What he did remember was very carefully combed hair and loud half-baked ideas about life and art, and he did not want to remember that." Mike reads her to sleep, she talks him to sleep. Not happy marriage. I think the sunrise is symbolic. The light comes slowly and it dawns on Nan that the marriage is in real trouble.

Lots more on the troubled marriage theme in this week's selection.


message 14: by Vicki (new)

Vicki You did a great close reading there, but definitely there is a underlying theme of unhappiness. I thought the story Neighbors was a little creepy.

What are your thoughts so far of the collection and his writing style?


Elizabeth (Alaska) I like his writing - a lot. I find myself wishing he'd developed into a novelist. These are snippets of people's lives. I thirst for more. Perhaps that's what makes him so good.


message 16: by Vicki (new)

Vicki I am curious if as we read we will continue to see an overlapping theme. I think his short story collection Short Cuts has some sort of connectivity through out the stories. I know this is supposed to be a more complete collection and so it may range more, but there definitely is some connectivity in themes.


Elizabeth (Alaska) The first stories were previously published. It's only the ones we'll discuss in the last week that are new. I read that they have been assembled "chronologically". I'm assuming that means in the order in which they were written, because I can't see anything else that would qualify for that description.

You probably know I live in Alaska. I was thinking all through that one, especially for the time period of its writing, that they'd probably find pot just as easily in Fairbanks as wherever these people were supposed to be living. I was also somewhat astonished that the husband didn't seem to think his skills as a mechanic would be useful in Fairbanks. But Carver surely knew that. Was there something about his wife getting the job, that they would move for her job that was making it difficult for him to accept? That seems in keeping with the time period.


message 18: by Vicki (new)

Vicki I am thinking about the time period of the writing. I am thinking you are right and this is the earlier stuff. I know some of these are previously published because "Are These Actual Miles" was one I have read before. It seems every American Contemporary Literature novel had at least by one of him. It seems like there was tension about her career.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Actual Miles is right in keeping with the times, isn't it? While it's unlikely used cars are being bought and sold this way today, the over spending and living above one's means certainly is. OK, yes, with the recession, a dose of reality is settling in, but people are/were in debt up to their eyeballs. They were buying McMansions they couldn't afford. And this is what happens.


message 20: by Vicki (new)

Vicki It is much too easy to pull out the credit cards and forget about it, so yes too many are buying what they cannot afford and stores play into that with the no interest for x amount of months (Guilty here, I love those, but I am always able to pay them off). The process of selling the car was interesting, though unrealistic now. It seemed to be used as a vehicle of demonstrating the tension in their relationship. Again I am sensing a theme here, can anybody be happy? Or would that just not make a good story? I feel the title could also be relating to their relationship, but I haven't quite made the connection yet. Some of these stories I need to settle and think about.


Elizabeth (Alaska) One of the stories is called "Where I'm Calling From". Like most good authors, Carver used his life experience for his writing. His first marriage happened quite young. From these stories we can see how it, and perhaps his parent's marriage, as well, was unhappy. I haven't read much of its dwindling into non-existence, but he had a significant other at the time of his death.


message 22: by Vicki (new)

Vicki That is a very good point. There has to be a reason why this seems to be a running theme. Problem marriages and people that really can't say what is one their minds. This may be a good time for me to read up a little about him also.


message 23: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Sep 23, 2010 10:45AM) (new)

Elizabeth (Alaska) 3. About 75 pages, discuss starting 9/23

Gazebo
One More Thing
Little Things
Why Don’t You Dance?
A Serious Talk
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
Distance
The Third Thing That Killed My Father Off


I think this was the most powerful group of stories we've encountered. All the hopefulness of a young marriage, the realization that what they thought of as the strength of a young marriage could just wither away.


message 24: by Vicki (new)

Vicki I agree and I think reading them together really added to the strength of the stories.

As a side note, I have done Little Things with a few classes last year. Oddly enough, it was placed in an American Gothic Literature anthology I had purchased. I started the debate with whether it should be considered Gothic Lit and then had them respond to the story. The level of intense discussion really shocked me on such a short story. All levels of students got into it. My honors class discussed and debated this story for two full class periods. So its a personal favorite of mine because in so few words there is so much a reader can pull from it.


Elizabeth (Alaska) As sad as it was, I think I liked Gazebo the best. So much longing for things to be set right. I felt Distance in the same way. The father was thinking, your parents loved each other and you, but it went wrong somewhere and there's no going back.


Elizabeth (Alaska) 4. About 85 pages, discuss starting 9/30

So Much Water So Close to Home
The Calm
Vitamins
Careful
Where I’m Calling From

While these continued on the same theme, I began to feel there are nuances to the stories that make each different than the others. I didn't feel this earlier.

So Much Water and Calm were different in that they told about rural life. I know these people. In fact, I feel I know them all, though I never quite saw the consistent hard drinking that we've seen throughout. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I was living in Sacramento at the same time as the author. Hunting and fishing is a way of life here in southeast Alaska.


message 27: by Vicki (new)

Vicki Sorry it has taken me a few days. It has been a horribly busy week and I have been sick.

I agree that there was a different feel about these stories. I liked having something more to hang onto. I really like the struggle depicted in So Much Water So Close to Home and how this one incident means so much for them.

I found myself looking for reasons about why these stories, though about different people, have a lot of connectivity. I don't usually delve into background, though I believe many authors pull their experiences into their stories. You seem to have a better understanding of his life and surroundings.

I knew he died young of lung cancer. I was not surprised to find out considering the content of his stories that he struggled with alcoholism until about 1977. It explains a lot of the references to the drinking. He must have really been exploring where he was at. I am curious to see if it continues in the newer stories when he finally broke from the disease.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I was thinking about you this morning and thought you must be busy. Sorry you've been sick also.

I was thinking about the title story, which was the last in this group. I didn't design it that way, that it is the last of a group, but I'm expecting it to be the end of something, a turning point in his life and these stories.

I was telling my husband about the story in the barbershop. He nodded about the guy with the toothpick and the son being hung over. This story was different because the narrator was an observer, rather than a participant. Anyway, I feel sure it comes from his background as a child in Washington. That area is logging country, so wooded, and hunting would have been a common fall activity. Carver might have remembered a similar story waiting to get his hair cut, or even sitting in the chair just like the narrator was.


message 29: by Vicki (new)

Vicki That is a very interesting point. I haven't started the next set yet, but I do remember Cathedrals being quite different than what we are reading now. So maybe we will see a significant shift in the story. It'll make for some interesting observations.

It's great that you can connect with the location and the characters. I think you said earlier that you feel you know all of these characters and it is true. In such short stories, the snapshots we have into their lives really resonate with the reader and develop a full picture.


Elizabeth (Alaska) 5. About 80 pages, discuss starting 10/7

Chef’s House
Fever
Feathers
Cathedral
A Small, Good Thing


I have to apologize. I'm behind on this week's "assignment." I have read the first two stories only.

They say write about what you know, and as far as I can tell, this holds perfectly true for this collection. Still, I've got to wonder where Fever came from. It is so completely different than any of the others. Perhaps it is from his Sacramento period, when he was attending school, and is about one of his acquaintances there.


message 31: by Vicki (new)

Vicki Don't worry. I haven't quite finished yet either. I will probably finish by Sunday. I am excited to re-read Cathedral. I loved that one when I first read it. I am interested to see if these stories are more of a turning point for him.


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